March 23, 2007

budding designers who want free advice

This is for all you budding designers out there... Here's the deal: I run a home-based business of creating jewelry, selling it online, selling it to stores and also at craft shows. I designed my own website and do all the photography. I order supplies, materials, and pay lots of bills. I travel across the country to craft shows. Business is good. Life is good....and very very VERY busy. I often get emails from people asking me for advice on how they should go about doing exactly what I have done. As much as I would love to have all the time in the world to answer these emails, it's just impossible for me to answer questions like these in a thorough, well thought out manner.

So, here is what started as an email I sent to one of my friends who is a local jewelry designer who asked me for such advice. It's mostly about doing craft shows, because that's what her question was, and that's a lot of what I do, so if you were looking for some free advice, this is what I got... I do up date this from time to time, so check back if you want more tid bits. AND good luck and go on with your bad indie business self!

Hi Jane! I think your website looks great! I don't know what I'm doing either - completely self taught on the website, on adobe photoshop, etc. Learning as I go, and really taking baby steps along the way.
A pretty good website for researching craft shows is You can search shows by distance, if they're juried or not, and so on. Each show has a place to leave feedback, too, but not many people leave feedback. Of the bad shows I've done, when the feedback is bad, it's right on. I've learned that seasoned crafters, or "craft carnies" as I call them, love to bitch and moan. When the show isn't going so great, such if customers are scarce or whatever, just sit back and listen to all of the whining. You'll hear people ten tents away arguing so remember that if you have a comment, say it in your quiet mouse voice if you don't want anyone to hear you. I HIGHLY recommend a book called Crafts and Craft Shows. This book really prepared me for how to act at a show (how to sell, how to deal with other vendors), what you need for your booth, and so many other things. I actually read it twice and I should read it again. I've bought some other books but this one was the most useful - I feel like I've been totally prepared at every show - except for the one where there was a heatwave and we had to go to Wal-Mart (gross) to buy a big ass fan.
If you want your display to look good, you're going to have to drop some cash. I got my EZ-up tent at Sam's earlier this summer, and it's great but it's not leak proof, which is only a big deal when it's raining really hard. I would try to buy one there, though, b/c they're really cheap and they're pretty much the standard (you definitely want a white one). Think long and hard about your displays, too. Don't be scared to spend a little money on them - the better your presentation, the more seriously people will take you and the more sales you'll have. Also think portability! I met a girl who built her own displays for a recent show I attended and they were huge wooden tables that were so heavy and cumbersome to move around, plus they looked ridiculous. I googled jewelry display over and over again until I found something I liked.

While you apply to shows, I would try to visit shows and look at how other people do their displays and how they weight their booths, etc. I haven't really been impressed with too many displays but it's nice to look, and after you have been surfing displays on the web, you'll recognize them at the show. TACA is weird, though b/c those are more high-end crafters and their displays are a little more intense (usually). The most important thing is that since you have jewelry, you want to raise your table height up to above people's waist b/c nobody wants to lean down to look at something, and you also want to keep it out of reach of small hands.
Another way I've found shows is to enter a specific city and then "craft show" or "festival" on yahoo. You pretty much don't want to do a show in a small town, so I enter Knoxville, Louisville, Franklin, etc. Every small town show I've done was a waste of time - even Clarksville - but we do live in the South where these small towns don't really understand craft, or why they should pay anything more than Wal-Mart prices. My first day of my first show (in Clarksville), where I was there from 12-8, I sold one pair of earrings all day. A PAIR OF EARRINGS!!! Boy was I a little concerned about my decision to become a crafter!!! Fortunately, shows have kept getting better and better. Also, if the show wants the crafters to stay til 9 or 10 at night - that's usually a bad sign. You'll just end up being tired and cranky, and people typically don't do a ton of buying when the sun goes down. Although I was at a show in Paducah where I was open til 10 but fortunately, I was right by the stage so people kept coming in the booth to look. I didn't have tons of sales that night, but several of them came back the next day to buy.

Another benefit to doing shows is that you interact directly with your customers. While most of them will probably try your patience (I've been asked if my earrings were real... uh... no they're imaginary, do I take money orders.... huh?, and if a large red glass bead was a ruby... yes and i'm selling a $30,000 stone in a tent in a park...) but some of them will give you some great ideas on how to improve your line, and you'll see what sells out quickly and what you need to make more of for next time! And if you're like me, it's an exercise in patience, which isn't all bad.
Wow - too much information? My last piece of advice is to take your time! While you are applying to shows, get ready for them by buying your displays and supplies ( for bags, boxes, etc). By the time you're accepted and have one to go to - you'll be ready!

On a side note... if you want to sell things to a store, the best and most professional thing to do is:
call and introduce yourself, ask if they sell local jewelry on consignment (or are more interested in doing wholesale) and then ask if it would be alright if you mailed or emailed them images of your work. Follow up with a phone call or email to see if they had a chance to see them and to see if you could set up an appointment. Never ever ever walk into a store without an appointment! If you're shy, you could send an email (introduce yourself, who you are, what you do, and why you are emailing the store!!!) with jpegs or a link to your website or etsy page, and your prices. Again, follow up if you seriously want to be in the store with another email or phone call if you don't hear from them. Stores don't necessarily want to meet with you blindly without seeing a single image of your work. It's very hard for them to say no to you in person, so they will be reluctant to make an appointment with you if they have no idea what you're going to show them. If you show them images and they take an appointment, you're as good as gold.

You also need to build your image and "brand". Come up with a good name (NOT "Julie's designs" or "Unique Creations" - in fact,
skip the words "unique" or "designs" altogether - they are really overused) it should be memorable like these brands: "Artafacts", "Verre New York", "Free People", and "My Olivette". If you really want to use your name, use your full name and be done with it, like "Jeanine Payer". Simple, effective, classy. Tag all of your jewelry with your logo (it's important to create a "brand" that people recognize), and make sure the tags aren't too small or too big. I suggest attaching them with 'stretch magic", a clear stretchy string that disappears in displays - they sell it at Michaels. I used to make all of my own tags, but now I have them manufactured by Gift Box (1000 for about $120 for a small, two color string tag). If you are at that level, you should be able to find a retail store packaging/gift wrap representative in your area (such as Nashville Wraps) who will work with you to create a custom string tag.

I hope this information is useful, and I wish you well on your journey towards success!!! For more information on setting up a business, just search jewelry/indie message boards online with your key words like "photographing jewelry" or "selling wholesale". Also,
Pamela Barsky has an ebook she sells on her website - I imagine she was inundanted with these "free advice" emails waaaay more than I am, and she is smart to put her experiences into a sellable product. I may have to buy it one day soon to learn more for myself!

UPDATE 1/14/08 & 1/27/17
Etsy shop advice: You can learn SO MUCH about promoting your shop through the Merriweather Council. I highly recommend her Etsy courses! Learn more HERE. Also, give out a million business cards and have your etsy shop on every one of them. I would check out the forums on etsy for all kinds of newbie advice, too. Commenting on treasuries and posting forum comments also lets people here know you exist. Also, Instagram and Pinterest are your friends! You can earn a lot of followers (i.e. letting people know your shop exists) by sponsoring a post on accounts like Makers Village.

Also, try and find sellers who you think complement your work, and ask if they'll trade business cards with you so that they can include them with their orders and you can do the same. Say, if you sell burp cloths for babies, you might want to trade business cards with people who make diaper bags or baby clothes. If you make jewelry, trade cards with people who make jewelry travel rolls or earring holders or other girlie accessories.

I am not a big advocate of coupons. I think they are great from time to time, but if you offer them once a month or more, people will be less likely to buy your product at full price.


Beth Howard said...

This is a great post! Very informative. Thanks, Freshie!

Anne More Jewelry said...

Thanks for sharing such great info!

Lindsay Field said...

Such a helpful post! Thanks for all the great info!